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Obando y Bravo Says He Met With Contra Rebels

October 28, 1987

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua, said Tuesday he met with Contra rebel leaders last week to try to arrange a cease-fire, or at least wind down their war against the leftist Sandinista government.

Obando y Bravo said he met with Azucena Ferrey of the Contra umbrella group called Nicaraguan Resistance and Fernando Aguero Rocha, head of the Nicaraguan Conservative Party in exile. He refused to go into details.

The New York Times reported the secret meeting with the U.S.-supported Contra leaders took place Saturday in Miami.

″They (the Contras) told me they were interested in cooperating to achieve peace and I recommended that - God willing - they seek reconciliation in the country and avoid war, or if this is not feasible to make it more humane,″ Obando y Bravo said.

″They were interested in reconciliation and in holding a dialogue with the Government of Nicaragua,″ he added.

Obando y Bravo, who is head of a national reconciliation commission formed as part of a wider Central American peace plan, spoke on the Sandinistas’ broadcasting station Radio Sandino on his arrival in Managua.

The peace plan signed in August by the five Central American presidents calls for cease-fires in the Contra war in Nicaragua and in leftist guerrilla wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and moves toward national reconciliation and democratic reforms in the area.

The foreign ministers of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica gathered Tuesday in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital, to discuss a possible extension of the self-imposed Nov. 5-7 deadlines to get the plan under way.

So far, however, the Sandinistas have refused to negotiate with the Contra leaders, saying they must first lay down their weapons and accept a government amnesty for their activities. The Contras demand direct negotiations, but the Sandinistas say they only will meet directly with the U.S. government, which they hold responsible for the conflict.

Asked if he was trying to break that deadlock, Obando y Bravo replied: ″You know that for a mediator to carry out his role it is essential that the two conflicting side want a dialogue and accept the mediator as such.″

″If the government of Nicaragua accepts our mediation, we would be rendering a service, but we are not indispensable. Someone else can undertake that task. But as citizens, we are obliged to cooperate with our little grain of san to achieve peace in Nicaragua,″ he said.

Asked if the rebels would accept to submit to the amnesty, Obando y Bravo replied: ″They did not say so. They think that if a dialogue is possible between the Government of Nicaragua and the Contras they would be willing to dialogue.″

President Daniel Ortega, meanwhile, announced he was accepting that representatives of two splinter factions from opposition parties take part in national reconciliation talks in order to break a deadlock since Oct. 5.

This raised to 15 the number of opposition representatives to the National Reconciliation Commission: 11 parties and four splinter groups. At first the government balked at having the splinter groups represented, claiming they were not legitimate parties, but later admitted two of them, and another two on Tuesday.

Unlike its adamant refusal to talk to the Contras, the Sandinista government has shown willingness to talk to political opponents living in the country and who do not take part in rebel activities.

In a related development, the armed forces of neighboring Honduras announced they were ready to expel the Contras from bases they have there anytime that Honduran President Jose Azcona Hoyo gives the word.

″We only need the authorization of the president to act,″ Col. Manuel Suarez Benavides, the chief military spokesman, told The Associated Press in an interview. ″We would have to mobilize big forces ... but it would be in compliance with the peace accords.″

Military sources say there are about 6,000 Contras still inside Honduras, and 12,000 either in border areas in the two countries or in Nicaragua.

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